The Corporate body: Time is Money

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X–buddhist inanities (in lieu of an intro)

Two pervasive reductions are now central to x-buddhist practice. To see this simply ‘google’ the word meditation, click on your mouse button, and presto. Here’s one:

So I brought my awareness into the sensations of my body, and that’s when the funny thing happened. It’s something that’s happened before, but every time it does happen it’s wonderful. Suddenly, my walking meditation practice “clicked.” And I found myself looking into my experience with pure, unconditional love. And then I realized that everything I needed in order to be completely fulfilled was contained within that present moment, and all I had to do was notice and appreciate it. Any thinking that I did was going to take me away from perfection, and why would I want to do that? And so my thinking pretty much ground to a halt.  (1)

And another:

Sitting on our veranda at Strawberry Hill, a mountaintop retreat in Jamaica where we are teaching a workshop, it’s easy to feel spacious and alive, vast and open, connected to sky and earth. This feeling comes naturally here but just as easily dissolves when we’re confronted with the “too many people, too little time, too much to do” syndrome of everyday life back in Manhattan. Maybe if we lived here all the time we’d always feel boundless and accessible…ahhh…that’s a trap. All of us tend to look outside of ourselves for the source of contentment, and that’s exactly how we create our own discomfort. We forget that what we need to find this kind of well-being is completely available to us all the time. It’s our own body and mind.   (2)

Lets call these two reductions : the reduction to the present moment, and  the reduction to the body.

X-buddhists, almost always blind to the ideological context in which they frame their discourse, conceive of time and the body in ways indebted to a 19th century recalibration of the medieval Buddhist world view. Congenitally incapable of conceiving of their discourse in terms of their situation, they remain within the confines of a redundant thought and a quietist practice. The discourse that accompanies this practice has degenerated in recent times into a form of public relations/advertisement drivel. It has more in common with the worst sort of pop psychology. But don’t be dismissive. The more stupid the discourse becomes the more efficiently it seems to produce docile subjects addicted to a form of transcendental navel gazing. If in doubt, devote an hour  (if your digestive system can ‘stomach’ it) to the innumerable sites dedicated to contemporary Buddhist practice on the web. I chose the above two at random. Finding such x-buddhist inanities is not difficult. They encapsulate what has emerged as the common denominator of modern x-buddhist discourse – religion as inner experience. I can do no better here than quote  Richard K. Payne:

These conceptions are the ground for claims that religion, defined as religious experience, is irreducible to other factors, such as social history or economics, and arises solely from itself (the sui generis claim). Since such a hypothetical experience is preverbal, it is also not subject to evaluation. Being a direct experience of reality just as it is, it is self-authenticating. In other words, there is no way that reasoned, reflective thought can be applied to the claims made on the basis of “religious experience.” (3)

Taking this into account and re-reading the above quotes, we can see what a funny little merry-go-round x-buddhists are blissfully spinning around on.

‘Any thinking that I did was going to take me away from perfection, and why would I want to do that? And so my thinking pretty much ground to a halt.’ (see above)

Lets ignore the fact that this is impossible, short of a massive brain seizure (even then there is probably some thinking going on somewhere) and take it that what the writer means when she says that her thinking came to a halt is that she ceased to  identify  with the content of  her thought. Lets say that she now finds herself more or less in a state of having lost faith in the power of thought to deliver a form of knowledge equal to the knowledge delivered by the experience of the absence of an identification with thought (even though, mind you, the thought about the uselessness of identifying with thought, is an essential thought grounding her practice) The upshot is that she will ignore any thoughts that might intrude on her lack of identification with the content of thought. In other words she will adapt a general attitude of ignoring the thoughtful promptings that might lead her to question the validity of her experience.

To add to her already blissful insulation from the disturbing intrusion of her own thoughts, we can now add a second layer of insulating material drawn from x-buddhist discourse, as described by Richard Payne (see above).

‘there is no way that reasoned, reflective thought can be applied to the claims made on the basis of “religious experience.”

In other words our friend is now doubly insulated, from within and without, as it were. Dismissive of any and all critique, she will regard attempts by others to question the validity of her practice, and the discourse that accompanies it, as just so much intellectualizing distraction.

Ahhh…bliss. How comfy can you get? Well, there are the extra ‘comphies’ enjoyed by a ‘professional’ living a life conditioned on the injustices of the capitalist economy (not to be sneezed at, even by our ‘spiritual’ friend) but we will leave that for now.

Time and the body (or time is money )

Time and the body, are, of course, long-standing preoccupations of Buddhist philosophical enquiry, but contemporary x-buddhism approaches this classical preoccupation by way of its ideological co-option, and in the context of late capitalist economics. This has repercussions.

cor 4Fredric Jameson, in his essay ‘The end of Temporality’ (4) brings the discourse on temporarily and the body together to show how both terms connect with the larger question of economy, and with preoccupations conditioned on our collective experience of work. Much of Jameson’s essay traces how the way we perceive time relates with what he calls the temporal mode of production. This concept originates with Althusser and concerns the way work conditions our experience of time; the stark contrast, for example, between the rhythms of agricultural work – the seasonal cycles of planting and harvesting – and the experience of industrial workers whose concept of the passing of time is conditioned on the immediacy of attending to fast-moving machinery, production cycles, monotonous repetition, and the artificial segmentation of the working day, week, and year. For the industrial worker, disconnected from the ‘natural’ temporal cycle, the word natural ceases to have real meaning.

Jameson goes on to show how, in the conditions of late capitalism, our experience of time has undergone another qualitative change in response to communication and computational technologies. One insight is the way media, in its ‘real time delivery’ of events, has made possible a change in the way we experience cyclic processes in the economy. Where once it was a case of fifty year cycles of boom and bust, we are now confronted (literally by way of live streaming ‘news’) with short-term cycles of market ‘fluctuation’, contextualized as ‘crisis and recovery’. This is especially true of fluctuations in the financial sector, where the same communicative technology that brings us the ‘news as it happens’, enables those same fluctuations by allowing investors access to up to date information and the computational capacity to process vast quantities of statistical data on demand.

A moment’s thought will be enough to get an idea of the connection between our experience of the rhythms imposed on us by a particular productive mode; contrast the temporal experience of those living within a system of social relations conditioned on a rural agricultural economy, say, 70 years ago, and the lives of contemporary city dwellers, hooked up to the net and living against a backdrop of non-stop fluctuation in almost every aspect of experience, from the cycles of the economy to the momentary input of senses via communicative technology, advertising, and the general pace of urban life – different planets! No? And a correspondingly different experience of time.

For contemporary humans the clock has been recalibrated, and all of our social practices occur against this new temporal horizon. When, for example, a person  takes up meditation, h/she experiences the  passing of time conditioned on a particular relationship with technology – phones, iPad computers, media outlets, etc; just as importantly she undertakes her spiritual practices imbued with a sense of time conditioned on a narrative about this situation; a narrative centred on the fast paced, stressful immediacy of modern life and the pervasiveness of change. What seemed a natural expectation not so long ago – the guaranteed economic status and social position of the professional upper middle class, of the skilled tradesman, of the farmer – now seem like quaint, old-fashioned illusions. The new situation too now seems quite natural. But the sense of naturalness belies the way we construct our ways of seeing.  We don’t see ‘nature‘, so much as collectively reconstitute the ‘stuff‘ of nature into habitual thought configurations. In other words we are interpellated into an ideology that delivers its own version of ‘naturalness’.

One of x-buddhism’s core preoccupations is to stem the tide of what it calls ‘distraction': it uses this traditional buddhist term in a new context – to reference the distracted experience of modern urbanized life. As an antidote, it  advocates an attitude that values slowing down. In the midst of the haphazard, hypnotic swirl of urban experience we can, says x-buddhists, create for ourselves a transcendental oasis of calm and bliss. Indeed we can ‘transcend and include’ our experience of the fast paced distracting input of sense perceptions by a process of seeing into their empty nature, as just one more deluded arising; we can ‘touch ground’ while ‘riding the tiger’.

Our irritation, boredom, emotional upheavals, and wandering mind are the basis of the meditation practice itself. Without them, there is no meditation practice, just some kind of gooey, vague, and highly suspicious sense of well-being that lacks any real strength or foundation. We are just trying to pacify our mind in a superficial way, without not working with ourselves as we really are – emotional, speedy, tired, anxious, spaced out, or whatever arises. By touching in on these difficult aspects of our experience—really tasting them, and then allowing them to exist without judgement or manipulation—we are tuning into a new kind of spaciousness that is refreshing and creative   (5)

What relief for the overstressed and the under-capitalized; for those who must function in the cut throat world of financial speculation, and its ‘survival of the fittest’ ethos. cor 5

This is beautifully expressed in the way the narrative of crisis and recovery (personified as  the drama of the rise and fall of financial superstars) has become an unquestioned backdrop to conversation, subject to the same sort of chit-chat once reserved for the vagaries of the weather. As Jameson says, the upshot is to abolish the past and the future as viable concepts; both have been subject to a radical relativization – the reach of human recall measured on a news agencies willingness to milk ‘news stories’ –  an entertaining dramatization of the lives of those caught up in the ‘maelstrom’ of financial, political and environmental upheaval, viewed as a series of unpredictable natural events. Each episode of this drama, subject to constant update, is as ephemeral as the latest technological gadget; the drama’s ‘throw away nature’ belies the seriousness with which it announces the latest  ‘development’, the last of which simply dissolves the significance of what came before. By such are we condemned to live in an eternal present, while introjecting the narrative of unceasing innovation and change .

Spiritualized Corporality (or corporatist spirituality)

The fetish of the present moment and the reduction to the body are mutually conditioning discourses; the narrative of unpredictably and upheaval, now extended to include what was once considered its purest expression – the weather (in its new guise as climate change) – expunges the possibility of understanding the complex processes that would enable a practice of social change. At the same time the focus of the subjective gaze withdraws from a world that seems to deliver jolt after jolt to the psyche, and to periodically spin altogether out of control, despite our sophisticated technological know-how. Withdrawn from all of this, the inner gaze passively contemplates the body; a form of practice that seems capable of delivering an unmediated resolution of the felt sense of alienation from a world we seem to mysteriously create awry, while wishing otherwise.

X-buddhism presents this practice of the body as confirming an ancient truth. But it is the contemporary narrative of the hegemony of the now that facilitates the easy acceptance of such a practice, and not the philosophical appeal of the ancient Buddhist trope of the impermanent and insubstantial nature of present moment experience  (although, of course, x-buddhist discourse presents it as such). Meanwhile, the subjects whose decisions create and maintain the structures and processes of the economy (corporate managers, investors, bureaucrats, politicians and the owners of productive wealth) can go about their business without comment; or a comment so marginalized as to consign it to an irrelevant past (tradition) or an impossible future (Utopia). We are, proclaim the prophets of neo-liberalism, at the end of history, and this discourse conveniently morphs with the discourse on the body (a marriage made in heaven for those who regard the state of things as they now are to be the last word in how humans should organize their affairs).

corporate3To proclaim the radically contingent and impermanent nature of experience was once, no doubt,  a  ‘wake up’ call for a subject set firm within the hierarchical structures of a medieval economy and a discourse extolling the value of tradition. But what of that same insight offered to the financial investor, juggling two or three multi million dollar deals before lunch, and trying to salvage his reputation and what’s left of someone’s capital after lunch? Or the board of a multinational corporation who see no reason why they should sacrifice present profitability for future sustainability by easing up on the exploitation of natural resources.  Isn’t the insight into the insubstantial and impermanent nature of experience drained of its liberative potential in circumstances where the present moment has become just another opportunity to consume the infinite variety of goods, gadgets, and entertainments spread before us by the advertising industry; what we would, in a past era, have condemned as a decent into materialistic self-indulgence, is now the existential condition of a large section of the population of capitalist ‘democracies’, grounded on the logic of the capitalist mode – produce in order to consume in order to continue producing.

The turn in (and what it turns on)

Consumption, though, is now exercised at a new level of sophistication – we consume not individual goods but whole lifestyles consequent on a vision (concocted by a coalition of media – advertising, television, entertainment) of  individual life as an acquisition. Thus the human is made into a cypher of  exchange, its value measurable in terms of the accoutrements, material and social, that adorn a successful life.. The inherent cruelty of this is, of course, ignored; my success is conditioned on you or someone else being seen as unsuccessful,  in terms of their self perception, and as a fact of economy; there just isn’t a level playing field and those who succeed, do so at the expense of the majority .

This is, of course, a truth banal enough to go uncommented upon, since the existing state of things – the existing productive mode – has been naturalized and  accepted as simply the way life is. Grow up and knuckle down, our kids are told. We even tell them ourselves, ventriloquising the advertising drivel about the ‘good life’. When they inevitably discover the banality of what we ask of them, and rebel – almost always, these days, in self-destructive ways – we are helpless to offer an alternative, since alternatives presuppose an awareness of the historical dimensions which bracket the present. What can we offer them, or ourselves for that matter, but more of the same?

Those who have caught a glimpse of the existential hole at the centre of consumerist discourse have few ways out, george.tooker.bureaushort of accepting a demeaning acquiescence to ‘the way life is’ – a ‘grin and bear it’ stoicism that belies a persistent melancholia; let’s leave aside those overwhelmed by depression, compulsive behavior, and substance abuse; helpless in the face of the inhuman onslaught on their integrity (using the word in its dictionary meaning; a state of being whole and undivided, of the condition of being unified or of sound construction); they fall by the wayside unnoticed,  except by their loved ones, and the bureaucrats who must monitor the system, keep the records, and compile statistics in the service of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

One of the ways out is to turn the gaze in, and try to keep it steadfastly there. This looks superficially like an act of some nobility; an authentic turning away from a superficial consumerist lifestyle. It seems to promises a dignity befitting the human; a vision of what a human once was, and might still be. We can become, says x-buddhist discourse, a thinking and acting subject in command of, rather than the slave to, compulsions. We can become strong in conviction and able to act out of compassion. What relief, to look inside oneself and, guided by the masters of an ancient  tradition, find the unmediated reconciliation of an alienated subject and its ‘always to hand’ object – the body; and to discover, in the present moment, and by way of the body, a way back to ‘who we really are’.

 Whenever one attempts to escape a situatedness in the past and the future or in other words to escape our being-in-time as such, the temporal present offers a rather flimsy support and a doubtful or fragile autonomy. It thus inevitably comes to be thickened and solidified, complemented, by a rather more metaphysical backing or content, which is none other than the idea of eternity itself. (6)

In other words the present moment, in order to deliver the liberative potential announced by the discourse, must be subjected to a reification that extracts it from the continuum of past and future, and places it within a metaphysical space of ‘timelessness’, an ‘eternal present’. Conveniently (for corporate capitalism) the move out of temporality and into present moment bodily experience coincides with a momentum already at work within the structures and processes of capitalism.

The banal truth (and its consequences)

Unending innovation, and media driven consumerism keeps us, paradoxically, morphed into a virtual present, like a glyph in a looped video presentation. And like the backdrop to a video game the ‘future’ arises’ (or co-arises to use a favorite x-buddhist term) as required by the unfolding drama of the game they would have us play, the action just one step behind the environment, which literally appears (manifests) out of nothing. The future is now.

Therein resides the highest speculative identity of opposites in today’s global civilization: although “Western Buddhism” presents itself as the remedy against the stressful tension of capitalist dynamics, allowing us to uncouple and retain inner peace and Gelassenheit, it actually functions as its perfect ideological supplement. (7)

For x-buddhism, such a statement makes no sense, since its discourse precludes the abstract or universal objects referenced by the term ‘historical dimensions’. These realities are simply dismissed as distracting conceptualizations. But of course there is no other way for such abstract objects – social practices, economic structures, modes, historical processes, ideological or symbolic systems – to appear within experience except in the form of conceptualizations. Both the fetish of the present moment and the reduction to the body expunge, along with the past and the future, all the abstract categories enabling a critical understanding of the how and the why of things and processes.

We are left with unmediated experience; a self-sufficient loop, named, by way of conceptualization, as that experience of non-duality beyond naming and conceptualization. This, of course, literally gets us nowhere, but a nowhere conflated with eternity and necessarily ‘thickened and solidified’, as Jameson puts it, in order to withstand the inevitable assaults of common sense.

corHere we see a remarkable convergence; the two-fold bankruptcy of introspection – its inability to deliver knowledge of our real situation, since awareness can never directly experience the modes and structures that enable awareness – and its inability to deliver knowledge of the social modes and structures that enable the subject, since it occludes knowledge of  the ideologies into which we have been interpellated. One of these, is, of course, the x-buddhist discourse on the potential of introspective practice to deliver knowledge by way of a reduction to the present moment and the body. Caught in this double bind,  x-buddhists are trapped within the circularity of their own discourse and practice; enlightenment references a form of phenomenological darkness; liberation  a form of  collective enslavement.

But isn’t this solidifying of the present moment entirely at odds with the spirit of Buddhist notions of insubstanciality? Well yes, but x-buddhists, enamoured by notions of suchness, non–duality, and non-conceptuality having more in common with Vedanta than with Buddhism, are not overly worried by such philosophical quibbling. They may have jumped ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ but for a time they will burn with the quiet zeal of the newly converted. Eventually the truth will dawn, of course, and they will just burn, as the protagonist well knew:

“Everything, brethren, is on fire. How, brethren, is everything on fire? The eye, brethren, is on fire, visible objects are on fire, the faculty of the eye is on fire, the sense of the eye is on fire, and also the sensation, whether pleasant or unpleasant or both, which arises from the sense of sight, is on fire. With what is it on fire? With the fire of passion, of hate, of illusion is it.”

Strange to contrast the radical world rejecting (even world hating?) lions roar of the protagonist with the inane banality of modern x-buddhist corporate spirituality – a co-opted, dumbed down, hobby Buddhism for corporate managers, technocrats, bureaucrats, professionals and (down the line) politicians and generals. A religion for the new Romans; bread and circus for the rest.

Notes

  1. Shambala Sun
  2. Wild Mind
  3. Payne, Richard: Godfather to contemporary Buddhism ithe West: Friedrich Schleiermacher
  4. Fredric Jameson: The End of Temporality
  5. Shambala Sun (ibid)
  6. Jameson (ibid)
  7. Zizek: From western Marxism to western Buddhism
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5 thoughts on “The Corporate body: Time is Money

  1. Lots here worthy of reflection, Patrick. You convey the gist of this critique clearly, cogently, and convincingly. As was shared in a related recent piece on SNB on “mineful” spirituality, the related article by Leon Weiselter documents coolly and cruelly the Google gospel of The Tao Jones Index. I note typically that I first skimmed your essay on my phone, amidst many e-mails and offline a flurry of final exams and projects to grade, so I had to delay my thanks. Part of the problem you raise: no time.

    It’s worth much more than a skim. I find that you apply Jameson well (and in a more appealing fashion than I’ve seen him paraphrased by more bloodless interpreters; too bad in database capitalist control J-STOR itself leaves the piece inaccessible to non-subscribers). The Zizek piece for him is less wobbly than often and while I think he’s too soft on the PRC, he reminds Western readers of the romanticization that, in more disciplined analysis, Patrick French, Donald S. Lopez, and Martin Brauen have elaborated well in their books about Tibet and the Shangri-La that, they stress, the East colludes with as much as the West. What’s worthy of the extended attention you offer is your diagnosis of the circularity of the capitalist workplace and the temporal wobble to expose the slippery but shimmering appeal of the x-buddhist panacea…at least to those who can afford the time and space and place to get away from it all. This issue of collusion with corporations merits depth. That lack is part of the problem that kept me from reading sweet f.a. about Buddhism, for many decades: I resented such slick messengers. That the Protagonist weighs in with his admonition to be aware of fire stings by its own singe.

    I’m reminded as I prepare to teach a course (assigned to me online, deepening relevance or irony of this article, as more students electronically taught enables higher enrollments, more efficiency, heavier workloads, rapid “turnaround,” and more “disconnection” from the natural rhythms of settling in to study, to ponder, and to reflect upon content more than a few seconds to tap in a response to the assignment of the week) of my use of this quote week one on the origins of religion. I was doubly reminded of this familiar observation, as Anthony Lane cites the second sentence below in this week’s New Yorker re: The Lego Movie: late capitalist pop culture peddles its subversion as do Google and marketers of calm, raking in the box office. As the x-buddhist critique confronts them, I wonder what (imagined?) toys will lure the kids out of their fiery hut. “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” Karl Marx, precisely after he coins the “opium of the people,” in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844.

  2. Fionnchu,

    Thanks for your comments, especially since you are so busy at the moment.

    I’ve changed the link, btw, for the Jameson essay to a free direct download, and thank you for pointing out my mistake.

    I note typically that I first skimmed your essay on my phone, amidst many e-mails and offline a flurry of final exams and projects to grade, so I had to delay my thanks. Part of the problem you raise: no time.

    I would like to say something about this aspect, and a related one expressed here:

    Ahhh…bliss. How comfy can you get? Well, there are the extra ‘comphies’ enjoyed by a ‘professional’ living a life conditioned on the injustices of the capitalist economy (not to be sneezed at, even by our ‘spiritual’ friend) but we will leave that for now.

    This condition of being relatively affluent and time poor (to use the time worn cliché) is probably an affliction that affects greater and greater numbers of people. A while ago there was an interesting discussion back in the old sod between trade unionists who represented middle managers and the representatives of the cleaning staff who worked in the institutions managed by the middlemanagers (collages, Universities, Scientific research centres, etc)

    One set of trade unionists (middle managers) had to implement cuts to the pay and working conditions of the other set (cleaning staff) as part of the austerity programme insisted on by the I.M.F
    The issue raised by the cleaning staff (in a moment of fury) was this : Are the assholes who are implementing this programme worthy of the name worker?
    One furious woman in her late fifties who had spent almost her entire life cleaning the stairs and hallways of a particular institution demanded to know if it might be better to call a spade a spade and use the term ‘class enemy’ for those implementing the programme rather than that of ‘fellow worker’.

    Two things are noteworthy about this : that despite rumors to the contrary the class struggle is alive and well in certain quarters (below stairs as it were) and that those who enjoy the relative affluence made possible by education, and a (relatively) high salary might, at some stage, need to decide where they stand on the issue of the ownership and distribution of wealth and the notion of access to the levers of social power.
    This is a thorny problem, not least because , in the greater run of things , much of the western ‘working’ population (middle managers and cleaning staff) enjoy a level of affluence conditioned on a form of globalized economy (another name for the ruthless exploitation of ‘third world’ populations , and the expropriation and depletion of their natural resources.) In that context, there is no room for a ‘holier than thou’ attitude among the (relative) ‘have nots’ of the ‘first world’ or their elected (or self appointed) representatives.
    There is a need, though, for an unrelenting critique of the co-option of pseudo-buddhist leaders, Gurus, mindfulness nit-wits, and assorted corporatist drivel peddlers of one type or another.

    higher enrollments, more efficiency, heavier workloads, rapid “turnaround,” and more “disconnection” from the natural rhythms of settling in to study, to ponder, and to reflect

    This says it all; about the dehumanizing counter -rhythm of an imposed production cycle, more alarming when the ‘product’ is a new generation of suitably interpellated subjects.
    ‘to study, to ponder, and to reflect’is, as always, the only antidote. I hope you get the opportunity , despite the structural impediments put in your way, to inspire at least a few of your student to do just that..
    Hope to see a new essay from you soon. Yes?

  3. But unproven tenets like “Rebirth”, a mind independent of the corporal body, the Samsara Chakra, a “Nirvana” as a goal etc. are meaningless concepts to me as I realise after death, I am no more like any other animal or species.

  4. Hello Nalliah,
    I agree. Still, though, there are many ways in which we can transcend our individuality—through our children if we have any, through forms of creativity such as art, through our contribution to community, liberation , justice, the future. In fact all of that just is the meaning of emptiness.

  5. Patrick, many thanks for the response to my response to yours in turn. “Relatively affluent and time poor” sums up deftly many of our “first-world problems,” certainly, and reading Nikil Saval’s “Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace” I am reminded again of how corporate mavericks (as in redesigning what they thought in the late 1950s would enable more liberated workplaces as they tore down the walls and made them, well, at least temporary and portable) led unintentionally the rush today in the US to where over 60% of workers (like me) occupy cubicles. Ironically where I teach, this leads to an elimination of distinctions, as we’ve all been corralled, if grouped by our functions, in the same square structures, except for the supervisors, who still have doors. Saval emphasizes how clerical staff and knowledge workers refused unionization, as they feared solidarity with blue-collar and uncouth affiliations.

    Self-improvement, Saval documents, appealed to clerks and secretaries, a way to move up. They earned not wages but salaries, and their perceived proximity to bosses and away from factory floors added prestige to their situation, and the conditions (as you may concur with cleaning staff) seemed better than grit. Yet, the office thrived on pitting the staff against each other to get ahead and curry favor, and pay stagnated as more women entered “pink collar” jobs generated by massive productivity of goods that demanded massive paperwork.

    This predicament suggests an analogy, for what may be conceived as a workplace freeing the individual from a desk or chair so he or she can participate in the collective energy and communal spirit fifty years later reifies as a symbol of our atomization. We labor often near enough to each other to hear, but we are separated and cannot view each other from our “stations.” No wonder, I reflect now, that I was inspired a few years ago to research the “invention of ‘Celtic Buddhism'” after reading Michel Houllebecq’s “Elementary Particles” (translated in Britain with the telling title “Atomised”). Issues of dehumanization at work increasingly occupy my attention as I see my own workaday situation transformed during the recession, physically and practically in my occupation. It’s part online and part onsite, altered by the economy. The co-option as you note occurs, when a boss might pretend (after, say, as the CEO Andy Grove did at Intel–typing his name in the search to check this, the word “paranoid” pops up alongside) to sit in his cubicle just like his workers. Reminds me of Caesar. He claimed to eat the same grub (probably once as a proto-photo-op) on the campaign, and so dismissed legionaries’ complaints about their diet.

    What I’m getting at is the way in which the counterculturally-raised leaders of x-buddhism as with many commodified movements continue to pose as if part of the humble bhikku contingent. Putting on the poor mouth, as the Irish say. This is nothing new and any radical challenge to the system if it endures may compromise. Yet the class divide persists as gurus and lamas flourish, and this is presented as more and more as one way the dharma gets packaged for consumption, at retreats and conferences. But examining its manifestations in the way Zizek pointed to a decade ago and how, using his same essay, coverage continues as some rally around those who at Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco protested, shows at least a dawning of class-based awareness. A few discontents, as with Occupy, attempted to take on the challenge that, who knows, may burst into a wider reaction against complacency and what this “Salon” piece calls “gentrifying the dharma.” At least this discussion is happening and this piece makes me imagine that its author lurked here and at SNB. (I found this article via a post on FB, shared by a friend of mine there, via Joan Halifax, tellingly.) It links to Zizek, critical comments made by Buddhist-affiliated activists, and larger issues of class division that The City debates.

    P.S. I was going to post that link over on SN-B at the “mineful” thread, but I see as you’ve demonstrated by a spirited exchange in progress, that this has since moved in a different direction. I welcomed your comments under “Why Buddhism?” about the political dimension lacking in other comments; mine did touch on politics in a blurred, broader pop culture-history of ideas manner, but my interests appear to be more eclectic than the critique you and others apply, with more philosophically informed perspectives. There’s room for us all, I hope. And, I hope when time allows and I study Jeffrey Franklin’s book and anarchist anthropologist David Graeber’s “Debt: the First 5000 Years” as I have Laurence Cox’s to try out more ideas here at TNB, be assured.

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